Change opinions on priesthood, religious life: Archbishop Harris at Chrism Mass

The archbishop reiterated his call last year for clergy to be “agents of ministers of the merciful and forgiving love of God”, and said he has begun speaking with the relevant authorities about a new facility for first time offenders, so that they do not mix with hardened criminals.

Priests join Archbishop Joseph Harris in the blessing of the Oil of Chrism
Archbisop Harris and Priest Blessing the Oils

The Archdiocese intends to use its clergy more effectively, while working on changing opinions about the priesthood and religious life.

Archbishop Joseph Harris laid out this plan of action as he preached the homily at last Monday’s annual Chrism Mass, concelebrated for the first time at Our Lady of Fatima Church, Curepe. Last year it was held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, before it was closed for repairs after the Easter liturgies.

Archbishop Harris said this year’s Mass – during which priests renew their vows and sacred oils are blessed – was taking place with “a certain reflectiveness of spirit” because five priests who concelebrated last year have “been called by the Lord to their eternal homeland.”
Archbishop Harris greets young parish representatives during the distribution of holy oils. Photos: Raymond Syms
Archbishop Harris Greeting Parishioners

He described their deaths as being “emotionally draining” as they occurred between Christmas and Easter. Each of the deceased “brought tremendous gifts to the enterprise of evangelisation: the intellectually stimulating and though provoking gifts of Fr Henry Charles; the search for harmony in families and communities of Fr Neil Rodriguez; the efficiency and effectiveness of Fr Andy Cockburn as a pastor; the desire for understanding among the various religions in our land of Dom Hildebrand Greene; and the humility and devotion to principle of Msgr Urban Peschier.”

He said in spite of their loss we are “filled with the great hope that they, now closer to God than we are, will in fact pray the Lord to send labourers into the vineyard to replace them and the Lord who never leaves the vineyard untended will surely hear their prayers.”

Archbishop Harris said because of their deaths, the subsequent problem of insufficient priests to cover all the parishes, the tiredness and loneliness of many priests, and “the need to lend a hand to other dioceses which are worse off than we are”, the Archdiocese “must find ways of using the many gifts and talents which are present in our presbyterate more effectively.” He said the entire archdiocese also needs to think about ways of increasing or making the vocation ministry more effective.

“How do we change the opinions of so many parents, young men and women, and not so young men and women, about the priesthood and religious life? …How do we become opinion makers so that men and women, the faithful in general, have opinions about the priesthood and religious life which will lead to a fostering of vocations?”

The Archbishop told the congregation that opinions would change when we all live authentic lives, citing the example of recently elected Pope Francis.

Focussing on the blessing of sacred oils for use in the Sacraments, he clarified a practice concerning the Holy Oil of the Sick. He said the oil used for the Sacrament of the Sick was distinct from blessed oil, and it is to be used to help those seriously ill and in danger of death “so that they are strengthened to repulse the attacks of the evil one…”

While using blessed oil on sick persons “is a laudable practice in the popular religiosity of our people and is done by the laity, it is not a sacrament and does not substitute for the sacrament” which can only be administered by an ordained priest or bishop, he explained. Saying a few words on society in general, Archbishop Harris said we live in “a moment of confusion” with the unacceptable rate of serious crime, “the national debate on the means which the government is pursuing to arrest the scourge of violence and murder,… the large number of young persons in our country who have no hope” and “the incidents of physical and sexual abuse of women and children.” These are all signs that “our announcement of the good news seems to be falling on deaf ears.”

After the homily, the choir sang Veni Sancte Spiritus, and Archbishop Harris led priests in the renewal of their priestly commitment. Among the local presbyterate were Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Nicola Girasoli and secretary at the Apostolic Nunciature, Msgr Pavel Obiedzinski.

The liturgy continued as usual until the blessing of the oils by Archbishop Harris, which took place towards the end of the Mass. Deacons then distributed bottled oils to parish representatives by vicariate.



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